Chandler jazzman to teach at The Nash - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler jazzman to teach at The Nash

June 8th, 2018 development
Chandler jazzman to teach at The Nash

By Colleen Sparks, Managing Editor


A renowned Chandler jazzman hopes to get musicians out of their comfort zones when they jam at a workshop he is teaching this month at The Nash, a nonprofit jazz performance and education venue in downtown Phoenix.

Eric Rasmussen, a longtime alto saxophonist, will teach the Duos and Trios Workshop June 18-21, culminating in a concert June 21.

All instrumentalists, including high school and college students and older adults, can participate in the sessions, part of The Nash’s summer workshops that started late last month and continue through July 19 at the jazz operation at 110 E. Roosevelt St.

Director of instrumental music at Scottsdale Community College, Rasmussen is originally from Monterrey, California, but lived in New York City for 10 years before moving to the Valley.

He is a director of one of The Nash Legacy Ensembles, groups of talented high school jazz musicians around the Valley selected from auditions who explore jazz styles, arranging techniques, composition and the art of improvisation.

The Nash has two such ensembles that perform on a regular basis in concerts and special events and make a year-end CD containing original work by the groups’ members.

Rasmussen realizes many middle and high schools do not have extensive jazz programs and he wants to expose youths to the American music form.

“We’ll be focusing on interaction and listening and improvising in unusual formats to kind of take folks out of their comfort zone, traditional jazz structures,” he said.

“You’re navigating song structure that you play the melody and improvise over the harmonic structure of the composition. We’ll also focus on creating something out of nothing; freeform improvisations.”

The workshop is for instrumentalists of any age who play at an intermediate or higher level.

“That’s another thing we want to focus on is different people of different backgrounds can still make music together,” Rasmussen said.

He added he knows jazz bands are “very rare in middle schools” while most high schools in the Valley have a jazz big band program.

But most have the jazz program in the spring only because they focus on marching band in the fall, Rasmussen said.

“What we’re trying to do at The Nash, while big band jazz is important – it’s another important skill to learn – jazz is primarily an improvisational art form about creation in a small group setting,” Rasmussen said, adding:

“At The Nash, we’re trying to focus on those skills. Most of the time band directors (in schools) are focusing on so many things.”

Rasmussen is just the right person to lead the workshop, according to Joel Robin Goldenthal, executive director of Jazz in Arizona Inc., which owns and operates The Nash.

“Eric’s an extraordinarily talented jazz musician from back East who could be playing anywhere in the world, but he’s chosen to make his home in the Valley and dedicate himself to education here,” Goldenthal said. “Eric is regarded by many as the Pied Piper of jazz, in attracting and working with young musicians.”

Rasmussen has performed at the Chandler Jazz Festival a few times and he has also worked with bands at Basha, Hamilton, Perry and other high schools in the East Valley.

He also has taught students in schools in the Scottsdale Unified School District. Also a composer, Rasmussen was a fixture in the jazz community in New York City, performing on the East Coast and around Europe on a regular basis.

Previously he was director of jazz studies at the Center for Preparatory Studies in Music at Queens College.

Rasmussen said some of his favorite saxophonists are the late Charlie Parker and late John Coltrane. He said living legend Lee Konitz is “one of my heroes” and he performed for Konitz’s 80th birthday party at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

He also said he brought Konitz to the Valley, where he visited and performed at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

“I bring pretty established guest artists that wouldn’t normally come to Phoenix,” he said. “The idea is to expose students to these great performers.”

Elena Rogers, 18, has enjoyed learning from Rasmussen and plans to take the Duos and Trios workshop from him this summer. A tenor saxophonist, Rogers was in a Legacy Ensemble at The Nash and took summer workshops from Rasmussen at Scottsdale Community College.

“He’s awesome,” she said. “He’s super-knowledgeable in what he knows. He gives us songs that will push us out of our comfort zone. He gives us lots of ideas on how to attack chord changes.”

Rogers is going to pursue a jazz performance degree at Arizona State University.

Students taking Rasmussen’s class will perform an end-of-week concert at 7:30 p.m. June 21 at The Nash.

Also coming up at The Nash will be the Latin Jazz Workshop June 4-7 with a final concert June 7 at The Nash.  Raul Yanez will teach the Latin Jazz sessions, which will focus on Afro-Cuban jazz and Mambo literature.

Another workshop this summer at The Nash will be the Trad Jazz Workshop June 11-14. Zach Wiggins will be the instructor for Trad Jazz and a final concert will take place on June 14. That workshop will emphasize music from the New Orleans tradition that artists including Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet and Bix Beiderbecke popularized.

Arizona State University’s director of jazz studies in the School of Music, Mike Kocour will teach a Bebop Workshop June 25-28 at The Nash.

Kocour, a pianist, composer and arranger, will provide an intensive jazz experience for musicians who want to explore improvisation, ensemble performance and arranging techniques. Students who complete this workshop will perform a concert on June 28.

The Nash will have a Vocal Ensemble Workshop July 9-12 with its concert July 12. Instructor Greg Amerind will help students develop vocal techniques, collaborate with other musicians, and create their individual stage style and presence.

The last summer workshop at The Nash this season will be the Vocal Jazz Workshop July 16-19 with the concert on July 19. Dennis Rowland will instruct vocalists in this workshop as they learn their role in a jazz ensemble and explore the basics of what they should listen for when performing with an ensemble, how to select tunes and keys, intros and endings, as well as improvisation and vocal techniques.

“Downbeat Magazine” has recognized The Nash as one of the top jazz settings in the country. The Nash was named after Phoenix native Lewis Nash, who “Modern Drummer Magazine” labeled as the “most valuable player” in jazz.

In addition to hosting jazz and new music concerts, as well as touring artists and local pros’ performances, student musicians also take the stage at The Nash.

The venue also holds weekly jazz jam sessions, workshops, clinics and master classes, along with one-on-one private lessons, jazz camps and other educational programs.

For more information on The Nash summer workshops and to learn more about the organization, visit